The Exact Difference Between Clams And Mussels

Clams and mussels have a storied history. Ancient Romans and Native Americans both ate mussels, and Native Americans even smoked and dried them as a preservation technique. Likewise, people have eaten clams for thousands of years, with Canadians setting up clam gardens that helped them grow faster. To an untrained eye or to someone who doesn't eat seafood very often, clams and mussels can appear very similar, especially once they've been removed from their shells.


Clams and mussels both belong to a group of animals called mollusks, which are soft-bodied invertebrates that are usually encased in a shell. They are also both filter feeders, which means they filter water to extract tiny particles of food to eat. The water passes through fringes on their shells, and this is how they filter their food and nutrients. Both mollusks have two shells that can vary in appearance, but clam shells are typically more rounded and pretty symmetrical, while mussels are usually longer. As far as color, clam shells are often gray or light brown and white, whereas mussels are usually darker: Dark blue, dark green, or black.

What do clams and mussels taste like?

Before diving into the taste, it can be helpful to understand the habitat of clams and mussels. They both live in similar habitats and are able to survive in saltwater and freshwater, though you're more likely to find clams in saltwater. Typically, clams are found in sediment in bays, seas, and oceans. Mussels, on the other hand, are usually in clusters on rocks or in the seabed, and they can also attach to manmade surfaces. Mussels tend to stay put on their hard surfaces, while clams move around.


The habitat of the mollusk can play a role in how it tastes, but you will find differences between the two that are pretty consistent regardless of where they came from. In general, clams have a sweeter and saltier taste than mussels as well as a firmer texture. The flavor of a clam is a bit more in your face when compared to a mussel. Mussels, on the other hand, are also sweet but tend to have a more robust flavor profile and aren't quite as strong or salty. People sometimes describe them as tasting earthy or nutty. They tend to be a bit more tender, and they can even become creamy when used in certain recipes.

How to eat clams and mussels

Before you eat a mollusk, it's important to take care in cleaning it. The process is pretty similar for both clams and mussels. First, remove any mollusks with broken or cracked shells, as well as any open clam shells. If you find an open mussel, try tapping on the shell; if it shuts, it's good to use. Then, let mussels soak in water for around 20 minutes, and let clams soak for 20 minutes to 1 hour (add ⅓ cup of sea salt per gallon of water for clams). When you remove them from the water, lift them out so that you leave any sand or sediment at the bottom of the bowl. For mussels, you'll need to debeard them by pulling the threads near the hinge end until they snap off, then soak them in a new bowl of water. Finally, scrub the shells with a stiff bristle brush and rinse.


In terms of recipes, clams are often used in clam chowder, pasta dishes, or steamed with butter. Mussels are commonly used in paella or cooked in a creamy wine or garlic sauce. While it's not typically recommended to substitute one for the other in a recipe, they can be used together in the same recipe. Try them together in hearty cioppino soup. Regardless of the recipe you're putting your mollusks in, you'll know they're done cooking when the shells open up. Take care not to overcook them, as that can cause them to become rubbery and chewy.